Seahawks Death Week Reloaded

a.k.a. What The Seahawks Need To Do To Get Back To The Super Bowl & Win It All This Time, Again

“Rebuilding” is a word people use to talk about bad teams who are trying to get good again.  Eventually.  In a couple, two, three years.  “Reloading” is a word people use to talk about good teams who are trying to stay good in a hurry.  I’ve seen that word “reload” used to describe what the Seahawks are doing this offseason, but I’ve always read that with a negative connotation.  Teams that need to “reload” are teams that have been good in recent years (plural), but in the most recent season, the quality of their team dipped.  Like, a team that’s made the playoffs a bunch of years in a row, then had one down season where they missed the cut.  And, instead of blowing things up, they’re just going to reload for another run at a championship.

The 49ers are a PERFECT example of this.  Great team, had a rough 2014.  They weren’t terrible; they weren’t bad enough to warrant a complete rebuild.  They just need to reload.  Add some pieces to the core they’ve got now and they’ll be all set for another post-season run.

“Reload” is also a word you use when you talk about teams that are desperately trying to cling to relevance when they’re WELL past their prime.  Think about what the Seahawks were doing in the offseason between 2007 & 2008.  They PROBABLY should have blown it all up and done a total rebuild.  Instead, they tried to keep the team together, reloaded with a couple of ill-advised signings in Julius Jones & T.J. Duckett (among others), to give it one more go with Hasselbeck, Jones, and Co.  What happened?  They bottomed out in 2008, and bottomed out again in 2009 when they had the same strategy (T.J. Houshmandzadeh, anyone?).

These Seahawks, right now, this year, aren’t “reloading”, because these Seahawks are already loaded!  Regardless of what happens, we’re still going to be one of the youngest and most talented rosters in the league next year.  Losing a Super Bowl doesn’t mean you “reload” for next year.  You don’t re-anything!  You do a little tweaking and you continue to build up the depth of your squad.  It would be no different had we won the Super Bowl, or ended up losing in the NFC Championship Game.

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The primary storyline this offseason will be the extension of Russell Wilson.  The secondary storyline this offseason will be the extension of Bobby Wagner.  Considering they were drafted into the new CBA, this is the first opportunity the Seahawks have had to extend these two (and to give them raises commensurate to the output they’ve given this team on the field).  We’re actually in really good shape right now, thanks to the in-season extensions the team gave K.J. Wright and Cliff Avril; those are two fewer deals the team has to worry about now that the offseason is ramping up.

How Wilson’s deal is structured will dictate a lot of the other moves this team makes, so it’ll be important to get that squared away pretty quickly.  I would argue Wagner’s deal – by virture of him not being a quarterback in the NFL – will be much simpler and easier to plan for (though, I doubt the team will wait to get him done either).

Those two guys are a given, and will get done, likely sometime around the Draft.  There are other, lesser guys up for new deals that the team will have to think about.

James Carpenter is a free agent.  After a rocky start to his career – one that has been pretty injury-plagued – it wouldn’t shock me to see the team let him walk away.  I can’t imagine he’s going to command a king’s ransom on the open market, but I’ve been surprised before.  Considering he’s more of a run-first blocker, with suspect pass-protection skills, I can’t imagine he’s a great fit for most teams who are pass-first.  If the Seahawks can bring him back on the cheap, I’d be all for it.  If they can’t, I’m not going to shed too many tears.  Either way, I would expect this team to draft hard for interior linemen this year.  Perhaps a guard/center type who could replace Carpenter now, and replace Unger when he’s no longer fit to handle the center duties.

Byron Maxwell is another biggie, and one we’ve all along said is not long for this team.  I can’t imagine the market is going to low-ball him; he’s going to get serious starter’s money.  Maybe not All Pro money, but it’ll likely be enough to price out the Seahawks.  I believe John Schneider when he says that Maxwell is a high priority, but I don’t think that’s at any price.  Here’s to hoping Tharold Simon grows up in a hurry between last season and this season.

Malcolm Smith is another free agent, but you can kiss him goodbye.  He hardly played at all outside of special teams when our core linebackers were healthy.  We’ve already extended Wright, we’re in the process of extending Wagner, and Irvin appears to be a coveted piece of our future that we’re keen on keeping around long term.  There’s just no room for Smith, who could likely be an effective starter on another team.  Let him go, replace him with a guy making the minimum, and we’ll be just fine.

Beyond that, the only other free agents we could potentially lose would be depth guys.  Tarvar, Schofield, Shead, Jeron Johnson.  None of these guys are “must keeps”.  I would argue extending our long snapper is of more value to the team than any of these other guys I’ve mentioned in this paragraph.

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So, where does this team need help?

Our obvious starting point is Wide Receiver.  We need a couple, and we’re probably going to have to draft them to get them.  Let’s face it, trying to attract a free agent wide receiver into this offense is about as easy as the Seattle Mariners trying to attract a slugging right-handed power bat; nobody wants to sign here and watch their numbers plummet!  And, I don’t know if this has hit you yet, but we’re about to have a quarterback who is one of the top two or three highest-paid players in the NFL, so it’s not like we can afford to over-pay for Larry Fitzgerald or whoever else may or may not be available on the open market.  There will be no Percy Harvin-esque deals this offseason, or for the foreseeable future.

Draft.  Draft is the way to go for this position.  Lock them in pretty much against their wills and try to squeeze as much as you can out of them.

One route to take is what the Falcons did a few years ago:  sell out and trade up to draft a sure thing.  While it’s enticing – since this team is already at a championship-level – it’s never going to happen.  But, we do need to draft a receiver high.  In the first round, ideally, but no later than the third.  And, we probably need to draft a couple (one early, one late) just to get our numbers up and create some really good competition in camp this summer.

Doug Baldin is locked in thru 2016.  Jermaine Kearse is a restricted free agent who will be tendered at a high rate, meaning he’s pretty much a lock to be here at least in 2015.  These are two fine receivers, who both probably need to be bumped down a peg or two.  Ricardo Lockette is another restricted free agent who SHOULD be back, but he’s less of a lock than Kearse.  Paul Richardson had that devastating injury and is probably a strong candidate to start the season on the PUP list (meaning he will miss at least the first six weeks of the season; so it’s pretty safe to consider him a non-factor for 2015, considering the rate of re-injury when players try to rush back into playing shape mid-season).  Kevin Norwood had quite the underwhelming rookie campaign, so who knows if he’ll even be on the team when we eventually cut the roster back down to 53?  Then, there’s Chris Matthews, Bryan Walters, and some other fringe guys to think about.  I know Matthews was a revalation in the Super Bowl, but there’s a reason why he wasn’t playing the whole game – he was only in a small package of plays, because he’s not really that good.

I mean, yeah, Matthews is tall and athletic, and that accounts for something, but a lot of being a wide receiver is being in the right place at the right time and doing the right things when you get there.  He might not be the best route runner, he might not be adept enough at shedding defenders or creating separation.  I dunno, but there’s a reason why that guy kicks around on the fringes of the NFL all his career.  If he was better at all the things BESIDES height, he’d be making millions of dollars instead of hundreds of thousands.

Really, what this all boils down to is:  get ready for another crapshoot.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and find a top-notch receiver in the draft.  But, we took two cracks at it last year – with Richardson and Norwood – in one of the all time deepest drafts for the position, and we likely came away with a couple duds.  This year doesn’t look to be nearly as promising, so hopefully we find that diamond in the rough.

Because if we don’t, I hate to break it to you, but the overall makeup of our wide receiver group doesn’t figure to be all that remarkably improved in 2015.  Yes, the team needs to keep trying to get it right, but unless you get that Odell Beckham, you’ve likely got a project on your hands that will require a couple years to get up to speed.  Remember, Golden Tate wasn’t a star the minute he stepped into the NFL.  This shit takes time.

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After receiver, things look a little more reasonable on offense.  I would expect the Seahawks to go hard after a free agent tight end.  That may or may not spell the end of Zach Miller’s Seahawks career, but considering he’s making a relatively low figure of $4 million, I would suspect he’ll be back (he may also agree to a pay cut, which would be all the better).  If we could pair Miller with a high-quality free agent tight end, and let Luke Willson continue to develop (i.e. stop dropping the ball so much), we may not NEED a bona fide #1 wide receiver.  Hell, Luke Willson by himself is already matchup hell for defenses; imagine if we’re able to sign another studly threat at tight end to go with him!  At a reasonable cost, that’d be the way I’d go.

Don’t expect the Seahawks to wade in the free agent waters for a lineman.  Carpenter is a wild card.  J.R. Sweezy might be looking at an extension this year, at a relatively reasonable cost.  We’ve still got Alvin Bailey, Garry Gilliam, and Patrick Lewis as quality depth pieces.  Okung is signed thru 2015, Unger is signed thru 2016, and Britt is signed thru 2017, so really the bulk of our offensive line will remain at least through next year.  I would still expect some late round finds by Tom Cable, but this probably isn’t the year where the Seahawks look high in the draft for replacements, unless someone TOO good falls to them.

Another big storyline is what’s going to happen to Marshawn Lynch.  Good God, is this something I don’t want to have to worry about.  The Seahawks are already on record as wanting to extend him, to keep him happy and well paid.  But, rumors are floating around hot and heavy that Lynch is thinking about retiring, which depresses me to no end.  I’ve been as vocal as anyone about not keeping running backs past their expiration dates, but Lynch is as crucial as they come.  I agree with the Seahawks in their desire to extend him another couple years, and I hope Lynch takes the deal.  If he were to happily retire as a Seahawk, I don’t know if I could be any more pleased.

Failing that, if he does leave the game this year, the Seahawks are obviously going to have to look to the draft.  Turbin is signed thru 2015 and will be the likely starter.  But, I imagine there’d be a big time share between him, Michael (signed thru 2016), and any rookie we bring in who wins that third RB job.  Our running game will take a noticeable hit, but I’m hopeful we’d be able to find our running back of the future out of that mix.

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On defense, the immediate need is in the interior defensive line.  Kevin Williams was on a 1-year deal and probably won’t be back (he may retire, or he may take another small deal to try to get that ring, but I think the team will end up moving on).  Mebane and Tony McDaniel are both signed thru 2015.  I have a hard time seeing the team moving on from either of these guys before the ends of their deals, but I do think we’ll look to draft a defensive tackle pretty early.

What we’ve got that we can count on is Jordan Hill.  He’s probably not a starter, but he’s certainly a quality depth piece who has found a role in our pass rush packages.  Beyond that, it’s a lot of slim pickin’s.  Filler guys like Dobbs, Scruggs, Jesse Williams, and a bunch of other names who are THIS close to trading in their jobs in the NFL for jobs as nightclub bouncers and with private security firms.  Ideally, we’d be able to pick up someone high in the draft who will go into the rotation immediately and eventually replace Mebane or McDaniel, with another guy drafted late who could hopefully develop into a replacement next year or the year after.

This is also a position the team could look to bolster in free agency, if the price is right.  Ndamukong Suh is an interesting name people are talking about as a potential target for the Seahawks, but I’m not buying it.  He’s about to be one of the top two highest paid defensive linemen in the NFL; 1) he’s not taking a discount to be here, and 2) we’re not going to blow up our entire salary cap for the next three years just to bring him in.  Yes, it would be AMAZING if Suh played on this line next to Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril; we’d probably have the single greatest pass rush the world has ever seen.  I could also win the Mega Millions lottery tonight and be a wealthy unemployed person tomorrow.  Let’s not waste the time or brain cells giving this too much thought.

More likely, the team goes after a lower tier free agent.  Cost effective, helpful, hopefully younger with a longer shelf life than a Kevin Williams.  Someone equally as effective at stopping he run and rushing the passer.  I don’t have any specific names for you right now, but they’re out there.  It’s just a matter of if they want to play for a winner or not.

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Elsewhere on the defense, I think there’s a lot of clamoring for another defensive end, but I’m actually pretty happy with what we’ve got.  Bennett on one side, Avril on the other.  When Bennett moves inside, we’ve got Irvin along with Avril on the same line going after the quarterback.  Even our depth is okay, with Cassius Marsh looking like a good prospect last season before he went out with injury.  Hopefully this is the year we let Schofield go and find a quality replacement in the draft.  Maybe somewhere in the 2nd round to 4th round range.  Get some freak athlete who does one thing and one thing extremely well.  Probably not a spot we’ll look in free agency, unless it’s as a depth guy to help out in camp.

Our linebackers are solid.  As I mentioned before, we’ll have Wagner, Wright, and Irvin all back.  We’ve still got Kevin Pierre-Louis and Brock Coyle who are signed long term as quality depth guys and special teamers.  Malcolm Smith should be pretty easy to replace with another low-round draft pick or undrafted free agent.

In the secondary, I’m assuming Maxwell will be gone.  Lane is signed thru 2015, Simon is here thru 2016.  Beyond that, I would expect the team to go after another corner or possibly two in the draft.  Unlikely you’ll see this team get a free agent unless it’s another depth guy for camp.

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As per usual, this is a team that’s built through the draft, with strategic forays into free agency.  I would expect more of the same.  With Russell Wilson’s contract expected to be pretty reasonable in 2015 (most of his money will be in the form of a signing bonus; his cap number this year will be manageable because we can spread out his bonus across five years of salary cap), there may be opportunities to get free agents on bigger 1-year deals.  But, unless Lynch retires, or something unexpected happens, I wouldn’t expect the Seahawks to go out of their way to bring in a big money free agent from another team.  The most we spend – aside from extending our own guys – will likely be for a quality tight end.  Otherwise, it’s all draft, all the time.

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